Seventy-five per cent of fathers don’t read to their children. They don’t know what they’re missing, says Charlie Swinbourne
Every family has a bedtime routine, and we are no different. At around 6.15pm every night, it begins. Our daughters have their bath, brush their teeth, get their pyjamas on, and then, usually after a number of protests and appeals, they finally agree to settle into bed ready for my wife and I to read them their stories.
Reading with them is really important to us. Our daughters are four and two years old, and because they’re both into different books, we swap who we read to every night. Martha, four, is currently into Horrid Henry tales. Meanwhile, Edie, two, loves The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
Our evenings have been like this for nearly three years so, until recently, I thought reading to my girls every night was perfectly normal – that all dads do it. But it turns out I am in the minority, because according to Booktrust, only one in eight fathers reads with his children.
Its statistics show that in 25 per cent of cases, this is because fathers work late, and I must confess, the fact that I work from home makes my nightly commitment to telling tales a lot easier. But what about the other 75 per cent? Interviews showed that one of the main reasons some fathers don’t read with their kids is because they see reading as a female – the mother’s – domain. These findings are worrying, because fathers reading with their children has been proven to boost academic success, and leads to improved social and emotional wellbeing. Booktrust is running a campaign called Get Dads Reading as a result.
So what do I see as the benefits of reading with my kids? First, after all the playful chaos of the day, I find reading with my girls a special, calm time. Because I read with them one-to-one, it’s a rare occasion when they have my full focus, and I have theirs, without any of life’s distractions.
Stories also give my girls their first stepping stones to understanding the world outside our home. We learn about the human condition through stories, and it’s no less true for children. By stealth, stories place them in other people’s shoes, and help them empathise with others – even it’s just a frightened mouse trying to survive the attentions of the Gruffalo!
As well as teaching them about the wider world, reading to my children has taught them about me, and me about them. Through our nightly routine, I know what my girls find funny or sad. I find out what they don’t know and get the chance to explain words and concepts to them as we go along. You could say reading to them helps me see things through their eyes.
Because I’ve read with them, I find I can explain other areas of life more easily. When I told them recently about a relative who is moving house to get more room, I only had to reference Julia Donaldson’s book A Squash And A Squeeze to help them understand.
There’s also another area where stories have helped us make a connection. My wife and I are both deaf and know sign language, so it’s not always spoken words we are teaching our daughters, but signed words as well. Which is why our daughters both know how to sign The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and all the scrumptious food consumed within!
There are so many good reasons for fathers to read with their children. For me, the biggest of all is that it’s made us closer. That’s something that can’t be bought – it comes from the time we spend day in, day out, travelling to magical worlds together.
Charlie has chosen 10 great books for dads to read with their children:
Calm, Down Boris! by Sam Lloyd
How We Make Stuff by Christianne Dorion
Penguin In Peril by Helen Hancocks
Man On The Moon by Simon Bartram
I Like Peas by Lorena Siminovich
What Pet To Get? by Emma Dodd
Eric by Shaun Tan
The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle
My Hamster Is A Genius by Dave Lowe
Not Bad For A Bad Lad by Michael Morpurgo